Scott Species – Broadbill swordfish, iconic globally, elusive locally

Xiphias gladius

Eating: Four stars

ID: Long, broad bill. Large eye. Brownish/black along the back.

Broadbill swordfish are an iconic species, a global sportfishing target prized by recreational and commercial fishers alike.

However, it is the latter category of fishers that see far more broadbill, due to the far offshore locations where they are found, as showcased in the Hollywood disaster movie based on a true story, The Perfect Storm, when captain Billy Tyne took his ill-fated crew to the middle of nowhere on a broadbill hunt that ended tragically.

Of the billfish species we have in WA, broadies are the most elusive. This is the case even though they are found right the way along the coast all the way south to Bremer Bay.

Always need heavy gear for these beasts!

Because broadbill usually live in very deep water, beyond the Continental Shelf, they are hard to target for most recreational anglers. However, some do and the Exmouth Game Fishing Club actually has a state-wide competition for this enigmatic species.

I’ve only ever seen one and it was out wide off Exmouth after a trip to the Monte Bellos. Conditions were perfect and skipper Bernie Vale decided we would try for broadbill. He had a spot with a sheer wall in very deep water and while we were hopeful it felt like needle in a haystack stuff as the baits went down.

Within a minute or two one of the lines went off, much to our surprise. The line went slack and we wondered what had happened, but when we heard splashing off in the distance we dared to dream. And so it was, with a decent broadbill swordfish emerging out of the darkness some time later. Caught by Gavin Cameron, it was at the time a record at around 65 kilos. With that big eye and imposing bill, the broadie was an amazing sight.

I was next on the rod, but lightning didn’t strike twice. The Exmouth area is probably the most likely spot to target broadies, with the Shelf so close to shore. Inn Keeper Charters in Exmouth has actually specialised in catching them.

They have been caught off Perth though, and off Albany and Bremer Bay. There was also a very lost one swimming around inside a Perth marina a couple of years back. Far be it from me to offer too much advice on catching a fish I have only ever seen once, but those who target broadbill have honed their craft and can be quite confident of catching these ghosts of the deep most times they fish.

You can’t mistake a broadbill swordfish for anything else. Gavin Cameron with what was at the time a record fish, caught off Exmouth.

The fishery is still very untapped here in WA, but on the east coast is far more popular and consistently productive, as their anglers have unlocked the secrets to catching them regularly.

Where they were considered primarily a night target they are now often caught during the day. Fishing personality Al McGlashan in one of the east coast anglers who has helped crack the broadbill code. Growing up to 4.5m and more than 500 kilos, and living up to 15 years, broadies require a very specialised approach.

Good electronics are obviously a must, as you need to be able to see canyons and walls in up to 600m of water, along with bait. Broadbill eat fish, crustaceans and squid, and our Exmouth one was caught on the latter.

Rigs are best left to the experts, but one consistent part of the outfit is usually lights, which help to attract the fish in the dark way down below. Obviously a heavy sinker or sinkers is needed to get the bait down to where the fish are.

Once hooked, broadbill are clearly a very strong opponent and many are lost during the fight. They will come to the surface and jump, as ours did.

Due care is needed when bringing them to the boat, as that large bill for stunning prey can cause serious damage, Broadbill are regarded as exceptional eating, so even though they are a big fish they never go to waste.